The Tulsa Shock now have a new streak to crow about, a win streak. After posting a WNBA-record 20 game losing streak, Tulsa has won their last two consecutive games after knocking off the Connecticut Sun 83-72. The Shock was led by huge performances (again) by Sheryl Swoopes, Tiffany Jackson and Ivory Latta - the "Three Musketeers" from Friday's win at LA. Swoopes had a new season-high of 22 points and seven rebounds after going for 17 and hitting the game-winning shot against the Sparks.
Jackson posted her eighth double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds in the win. Latta ended the day with 19 points and six assists, definitely point guard-worthy numbers. The Sun appear, at least to my eye, to be a one-hit-wonder. Connecticut lived and died by Tina Charles, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
Read more about the Shock's new happy streak after the jump!
"We're at a point in the season where other teams playing against us have more to lose than we do so we're free. We can go out there and play hard and get it right and it's all about pride for us. It's a character thing, it's pride and it's representing Tulsa and representing the Shock and we're taking pride in that." - Teresa Edwards
The game started as so many do at the BOK. A close game that Tulsa is trailing. At the end of the first quarter, Connecticut had a four point lead due in no small part to Tina Charles' 11 points in 10 minutes. Charles continued to dominate the second quarter, recovering rebounds and making putbacks nearly at will. The Sun ended the first half on a 16-4 run and went into the locker room ahead 43-32. Charles had 17 points to lead all scorers. It started to look like the game might slide away after the break when Connecticut widened the gap to 15 points two minutes into the third quarter.
But there was still 18 minutes to play. And play they did. Tulsa started clawing back with key threes from Jennifer Lacy and Ivory Latta, key rebounds by Tiffany Jackson, signature jumpers by Sheryl Swoopes. Before you knew it, Tulsa was back in the thick of things. The Shock had tied the game at 59-59 after the third quarter, erasing their large deficit in an eight minute span.
Charles was rendered ineffective after the big first half, adding just four points in the third and none in the second. In fact, she didn't have any shot attempts in the final period when the Sun needed her presence most.
Instead, the presence of an unlikely duo stopped her cold - Abi Olajuwon and Karima Christmas.
"I've played against her since I was 15 years old, starting in USA basketball and then the McDonald's game, then Colorado Springs and OU so yeah it definitely feels good to get the win," Olajuwon said of her Connecticut nemesis, Charles. "I tried to focus on pushing her out as far as possible, contesting and really boxing her out. I knew that even if I box her out and my teammates get the rebound, it definitely helps when she's not under the basket because she finishes really great."
Olajuwon's locker room next door neighbor, Ivory Latta, was quick with praise for the bench effort on Sunday especially of the two bruisers to her left.
"The great thing about this team is we had other players that could come off the bench and contribute and we definitely needed that," Latta said. "This girl right here (Abi), came in and gave us big minutes and Karima Christmas played great."
Edwards is well aware of the impact Olajuwon had on the outcome of this game, regardless of what the stat sheet says.
"Abi's size is proving to be a big difference in a lot of games during the close of the season for us," Edwards said. She's learning how to use her body. Coach Murray is really hard on her in practice about using what she's got ... It's going to pay off for her. She's not afraid to do it. She's not afraid to sacrifice herself for her team."
Sheryl Swoopes was quick to praise the team effort as well, despite her streak of season high games. Friday at LA, she tied her then season high in points (17) and set a high mark for rebounds (9) in 35 minutes on the court. Sunday, she rebounded with a 22-point game and another 35-minute appearance. But the team effort was firmly on her mind.
"Every player that came in, whether it was 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 20 minutes contributed and brought everything that they could bring individually and that's how we won this game. I thought everybody that came in this game today played exceptionally well. I thought there were crucial points in the game where we needed a bucket and either I made it or Ivory did or Tiff or Amber," Swoopes said of the scoring.
"I thought Abi gave us some great minutes, Karima was amazing, Kayla came in and you know Kayla's hurting right now, but for her to give us the minutes she gave us. Every player on the team that played today contributed in the win so man, it just feels good to come home and not just win, but to actually play well in front of our fans and let them see a good game for a change."
The Connecticut locker room was reeling with a sour taste in their mouths and a genuine sense of shock in their words.
"They outplayed us by a lot," Sun Coach Mike Thibault said. "51-29 in the second. It was a combination of them playing really well -- they made 75 percent of their shots in the second half -- and we were battling offensively, partly because of their defense and partly us just playing poorly.
"We settled for too many jumpshots, and Tulsa made theirs. We had Tina with 17 points in the first half, and we only gave her four shots in the second. I thought the team did a poor job at giving her the ball."
Charles' own words might show just how stunned the Sun is to be leaving Tulsa with a loss. "We dominated (in the first half). I don't know what to say. I am speechless."
Contrary to the belief of WNBA watchers everywhere, there is still life in the team from Tulsa. They won't go down in history as a one-hit wonder after grabbing a satisfying road win in LA Friday. And now they won't even go down as a two-hit special after defending their home court Sunday. In fact, Shock opponents better watch out for what's waiting for them.
Tulsa is ready to ruin the playoff potential for some of their future opponents, a list which includes Phoenix (twice), Seattle, Atlanta, LA and San Antonio.
"We have nothing to lose and probably every team that we're playing that's coming in here or on the road is counting it as an easy win," Swoopes said. "For me, it doesn't take a whole lot to motivate me, I just kind of talk to them and say look we can't make the playoffs, but can hopefully ruin someone else's chances or their hopes of making the playoffs.
Tiffany Jackson echoes the sentiment of wanting the opportunity to mix up the playoff picture.
"Yeah, I think we want to be the spoilers," Jackson said. "We talked about it and I think we feel like even though we can't go to the playoffs we can still make an impact on other people's seasons."
I think those five squads better be paying attention to the late-season upstarts.
Reason to celebrate:
Coach Edwards and the staff took some time after the LA victory to relish the win after seeing the highlights hit the national stage, calling her counterparts "kids in a candy store".
"Oh man, we were excited. Heck, I was excited. I was sitting in the restaurant at the hotel eating when it came on," Edwards recalls of Friday night. "Me and the whole coaching staff starting yelling. We were like kids again - like kids in a candy store. We made SportsCenter, are you kidding me? ESPN - that's big time baby! Tulsa Shock!"
Edwards was holding the game ball during Sunday's presser, her second trophy of the weekend.
"I'm cherishing both of these balls man. I'll be honest with you, the one they gave me (Friday) was so special. It was unexpected and so special and they'd already signed it and it was sweet. That was emotionally sweet."
What might be sweet for the coach was exceptionally satisfying for the team.
"It was a big win on Friday to win against LA on their home court, it was great disappointing them," Jackson said. "But just to come here and do it in front of our fans who've just like stuck with us through this whole thing was awesome."
There is no love lost between Swoopes and the women clad in purple and gold, and she's not afraid to tell you about it.
"To go to LA and win back-to-back a game on their home court, obviously felt good," Swoopes said. I don't care what team I'm playing for, it always feels good to beat LA. Then to come home and play a team like Connecticut, they're also a very good team. This definitely feels good."
Latta, Jackson and Lacy all used the "S word" (streak) in the post-game locker room. "It feels so good to have a nice streak baby, it feels really good!" said Latta with a signature smile.
Edwards brought it full circle as she talked about winning at home for the fans, though.
"That's what feels so gratifying today, to me. As a coach going out there day in and day out and we're trying," she said. "You know, this is a great crowd. This is one of the greatest crowds I've ever sat in front of and I mean when we're losing and they're still there, and they're fighting to the finish when we didn't have that victory at the end. This is so gratifying for them, seriously. And they make me want to go out and play hard. They make me want to get up and go to work harder, everyday."
Swoopes there it is:
Sheryl Swoopes is back with a vengence. She's posted double-digit scoring in her last five contests, averaging 15.6 points a night. Well above her scoring average of 8.1 points, Swoopes did it all in 8 days and on one knee. Well, she doesn't like to admit the one knee part, especially when her health is at its peak of the year.
"I wouldn't say on a bad knee, I would just say on a knee that's not as good as the other one!" Swoopes said, eliciting laughter from everyone in the room, herself included. "I think the thing that is frustrating me right now is the fact that my body right now feels better than it's felt since we started, and it's frustrating because I wish it would have felt like this in the beginning.
"Not to say that things would have been any different, our hopes and chances of being in the playoffs would be different, but it makes a difference when you're healthy. I'm not saying I'm 100% healthy, because my knee bothers me a little bit, but it's nothing compared to what it was at the beginning. There was never a doubt in my mind that if I was healthy I could still play on this level and compete with the best of them. It just feels really good to be sitting here today with my body feeling the way it feels right now."
Edwards isn't surprised by her vet's play or passion for the game.
"What about it? That's Sheryl Swoopes, man," she said with a head shake. "What do you think? I don't know what she's doing to stay so healthy and keep her mind right. I'll ask her if she's tired and she says I'm good. She's just strong like that but I know that's just what she's made of. That's why you have a legend like that around."
- Liz Cambage hurt her shoulder in Friday's win against LA and only managed to play 2:53 in Sunday's win. Her absence was not for lack of effort or desire, however.
"Liz was questioning herself whether she could play or not, and I didn't know whether she was healthy or not," Edwards said. "But I was going to try her to see what she could bring us because she really wanted to play. She told me before the game she really wanted to play."
I chatted with Liz on my way out of the arena briefly and she acknowledged that when she was absent from the bench in the beginning stages of the game she was back getting a shot in her shoulder.
- Kayla Pedersen also saw limited action from the bench, playing only 3:40 for the Shock. While there is no new specific injury to report, Edwards spoke about the rookie.
"I don't know. KP, she says she feels good and she's OK to play but when she gets out there she's not the same KP we know and we've seen," Edwards remarked. "When I put them on the floor I just see what they're going to bring. What they're bringing, if it's conducive to what we're doing or if they're bringing their game then they're going to be out there. If not, then I'm going to keep doing my best to shuffle the right people in."
- Betty Lennox did not travel with the team to Seattle and LA, still hampered by a concussion suffered last week in practice. Edwards said she didn't have an update as to her health and hadn't spoken with her in the last two days.
With every team in action Tuesday, the Shock hosts the Phoenix Mercury and the Sun continue their road trip in Texas as they face the Silver Stars.